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Our history

The Commonwealth is one of the world’s oldest political associations of states. Its roots go back to the British Empire, when countries around the world were ruled by Britain.

The early Commonwealth

Over time different countries of the British Empire gained different levels of freedom from Britain. Semi-independent countries were called Dominions. Leaders of the Dominions attended conferences with Britain from 1887.

The 1926 Imperial Conference was attended by the leaders of Australia, Canada, India, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South Africa.

At the 1926 conference Britain and the Dominions agreed that they were all equal members of a community within the British Empire. They all owed allegiance to the British king or queen, but the United Kingdom did not rule over them. This community was called the British Commonwealth of Nations or just the Commonwealth.

Birth of the modern Commonwealth

The Dominions and other territories of the British Empire gradually became fully independent of the United Kingdom.

India became independent in 1947. India wanted to become a republic which didn't owe allegiance to the British king or queen, but it also wanted to stay a member of the Commonwealth.

At a Commonwealth Prime Ministers meeting in London in 1949, the London Declaration said that republics and other countries could be part of the Commonwealth. The modern Commonwealth of Nations was born.

King George VI was the first Head of the Commonwealth, and Queen Elizabeth II became Head when he died. But the British king or queen is not automatically Head of the Commonwealth. Commonwealth member countries choose who becomes Head of the Commonwealth.

The modern Commonwealth

Since 1949 independent countries from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific have joined the Commonwealth. Membership today is based on free and equal voluntary co-operation.

The last 2 countries to join the Commonwealth - Rwanda and Mozambique - have no historical ties to the British Empire.

The Commonwealth Secretariat was created in 1965 as a central intergovermental organisation to manage the Commonwealth's work.

Commonwealth library and archive

The Commonwealth library and archives are available for historical research and study at Marlborough House in London.

Stories from the Commonwealth archive

Commonwealth sets up a 'Small States Office' in Geneva Commonwealth Small States Office plaque at the United Nations in Geneva

2 April 2011

The Commonwealth Small States Office provides subsidised office space for diplomatic missions of Commonwealth small states, as well as a business centre for tenants and visiting small states delegations attending multilateral meetings in Geneva.

South Africa withdraws from The Commonwealth

2 February 1961

South Africa withdraws from The Commonwealth, after pressure from member states against its apartheid policies

Cameroon joins the Commonwealth Flag of Cameroon

1 November 1995

1 November 1995

Cameroon becomes the 53rd country to join the Commonwealth.

Namibia joins the Commonwealth Image of Namibia flag

21 March 1990

21 March 1990

Namibia becomes the 52nd country to join the Commonwealth.

Brunei Darussalam joins the Commonwealth Image of Brunei Darussalam flag

7 May 1984

7 May 1984

Brunei Darussalam becomes the 52nd country to join the Commonwealth.

St Kitts and Nevis joins the Commonwealth Image of St Kitts and Nevis flag

19 September 1983

19 September 1983

St Kitts & Nevis becomes the 50th country to join the Commonwealth.

Maldives joins the Commonwealth Image of Maldives flag

9 July 1982

9 July 1982

Maldives becomes the 49th country to join the Commonwealth.

Antigua and Barbuda join the Commonwealth Flag of Antigua and Barbuda

1 November 1981

1 November 1981

Antigua & Barbuda becomes the 48th country to join the Commonwealth.

Vanuatu joins the Commonwealth Flag of Vanuatu

30 July 1980

30 July 1980

Vanuatu becomes the 46th country to join the Commonwealth.

Kiribati joins the Commonwealth Flag of Kiribati

12 July 1979

12 July 1979

Kiribati becomes the 43rd country to join the Commonwealth.

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